Fans watching the Outback Bowl on January 1 could see a fast start to the new year start off with two high power offenses that like to score points by running the football.Both coaches Wisconsin's Barry Alvarez and Auburn's Gus Malzahn, said they see defense as the major key to victory in the game. They spoke their teams and the game at a news conference Monday morning in Tampa.
On the Wisconsin side, you have Melvin Gordon, who led the nation in rushing with 2,336 yards and 26 touchdowns in 2014. For Auburn, Cameron Artis-Payne racked up 1,482 yards and 11 touchdowns for the Tigers. Shut them down, and offenses may sputter out. Neither team has an easy task in that respect.
“As a former defensive coach, somehow you have to stop them,” said the Badgers' Barry Alvarez in dealing with the Tigers hurry-up style of offense. “You have to figure out how to implement your defense and how to adjust it, how to make the calls on the run and prepare for it. We've faced some other offenses like this, but it creates problems for you and its hard to practice it. We try to simulate it as best we can, but it's very difficult to prepare for.”
Besides the run game of Artis-Payne, Wisconsin has to defend against quarterback Nick Marshall, who not only tossed for 2,315 yards and 18 touchdowns, he ran for 780 yards and 11 more scores. Alvarez said its a difficult task for the Badgers' defense. “I think any time that you play someone with that type of ability you better be sound, you better corner the defense and try to have people chase him down and take the proper angles. You have to be sound and it's still very difficult to get him down.
One less thing for Wisconsin to worry about is receiver Duke Williams. Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said that the junior wide receiver is suspended for the game for breaking team rules, but wouldn't elaborate. Williams led the team with 730 yards receiving and five touchdowns on the season. Despite the loss, Malzahn said Williams is still helping his teammates prepare for the game. “He is planning on coming back next year so that's the reason he's here. I felt it was important that he was on the scout team. He's acting as Wisconsin's top receiver, so I felt like that was the right thing to do.
Taking Williams' loss into account, Auburn is relying on their other players to step up. “Obviously it's a blow, but we have played games without him. We have guys that we feel very good about that are veteran guys that have made plays for us the past two years. We have a plan and we feel good about it.”
Better news for Badger fans is that Melvin Gordon is feeling better. After missing practice Sunday because of a fever, coach Barry Alvarez said they met this morning and he was okay.